PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When the Mets arrive early this morning at newly renovated Citi Field, the first thing they might want to do is see exactly what it looks like. After hearing so much about the changes, the players will have only a few hours to adjust to the shorter, closer and now blue walls before the season opener against the Braves.
The ballpark's redesign is going to affect the Mets in plenty of obvious ways, but also in some you might not expect.
"For me, like with throws from the shortstop and stuff, there used to be a huge wall there and it used to be black," Ike Davis said. "Now it's going to be not there and I'm not sure how I'm going to see the ball from the fielders when they throw it."
Further complicating matters is that the Mets played a game in Tampa Wednesday, the back end of a home-and-home with the Yankees. That killed any chance of a workout day to help get comfortable at Citi Field.
"There isn't a big grace period," Jason Bay said, "so we'll be learning on the fly. But it's the only option we have. It's not that we're choosing to do it this way. Hopefully, it will be enough."
When Citi was built for the 2009 season, the Mets erected a chain-link facsimile at Field 7 of their spring training complex that mirrored the dimensions of their home park. With Citi Field reconfigured this winter, the Mets again made the corresponding changes to Field 7, but left the old walls standing to remind the hitters of how much better their lives are going to be now.
But trying to simulate the conditions at Citi Field on a patch of grass in Port St. Lucie is not the same as duplicating them. Field 7 had the same shorter, 8-foot-high wall from foul pole to foul pole. Just like Citi, it was 358 feet down the leftfield line as compared to 371 a year ago, 398 to center (408) and 375 down the line in right (378).
As expected, the Mets had a much easier time clearing those new fences during batting practice. But there are other factors to consider as well, including the gusty South Florida winds and the thick humidity. That's a little different than Willets Point in April and begged the question: Could anything be gauged from hitting on Field 7?
"You think you can," Bay said, "but it's very windy here. You kind of pop one up to the shortstop and it ends up on the other field somewhere. I'd venture to say you don't really learn anything in the true sense. You think, OK, maybe. But until you get to New York, and you're in those settings, you can't really get a good feel."
David Wright hit 10 home runs during Citi Field's inaugural season, and only five at home. But he followed that with 29 in 2010 in 157 games. Last year, slowed by a fractured back that sidelined him two months, he had 14 homers. Wright shakes off the perception that Citi Field was altered for him, but he's looking forward to the new dimensions.
"Obviously, you're bringing the fences in, so hitters should be happy, and I'm no different on that," Wright said. "But it's not like it's going to be balls flying out of there left and right. I've never changed my swing or thought about it differently because you play in a smaller or bigger ballpark."
Davis, a pull hitter whose power alley ranges to the right of the Home Run Apple, is particularly pleased that the right-centerfield wall in front of the bullpen has been moved in from 415 feet to 398.
"I'm excited just to know that if I hit the ball 10 feet short of the [old] wall, I have a chance to hit a home run now, and last year I didn't," Davis said. "It's always a good feeling when you don't have to hit it as far for a home run."
One player who may have benefited the most from Field 7 was Lucas Duda, who spent many spring training days shagging fly balls in the cozier rightfield. Duda has worked hard to improve his defense, but the best thing that could have happened to him was getting rid of the deep, jagged-edge canyon at old Citi.
"That Modell's kind of triangular thing out there, that was tough to play," Duda said. "When the ball was over my head, I didn't know which way it was going to carom. I think that's going to help me as far as covering more ground."